LANCASTER — The Lancaster Criminal Justice Commission unanimously recommended a proposed human trafficking and nuisance motels ordinance for approval to the city council at Wednesday morning’s meeting.
The proposed ordinance would deem it an unlawful public nuisance for any person to directly or indirectly maintain or permit the use of a motel or hotel for the purpose of human trafficking, sex trafficking, prostitution, lewdness, illegal gambling or any drug activity. Motel or hotel employees would also be responsible for preventing the use of the facility for human trafficking, drug activity or other illegal activity, including attempting to rent a room for less than 12 hours; leaving after only a few hours; paying with cash to avoid a paper trail; reserving multiple rooms at once; and frequent guests coming and going.
In addition, the proposed ordinance would prohibit a person from renting any motel or hotel room on an hourly basis, and would require every owner, operator, manager and/or employee of any motel or hotel to keep a register containing the name and address of each guest, including the date and time of arrival and the room assigned, and date and time of departure. Violations of the proposed ordinance would result in an administrative citation with a $1,000 penalty for the first violation and $5,000 for any subsequent violations. In more extreme cases the city could revoke or suspend a business license, shutter a business for up to a year, sell off the fixtures and apply up to $25,000 in civil penalties. The proposed ordinance also includes an appeal process.
The proposed ordinance was developed with the assistance of an ad hoc committee and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s human trafficking team.
Assistant City Attorney Jocelyn Corbett said the city sent out letters to the property owners and business owners of the city’s 22 motels and hotels and invited them to attend a training session led by a member of the sheriff’s human trafficking team. Only two people showed up for the training, which was videotaped.
“It was an excellent presentation,” Corbett said.
If the ordinance is approved, Corbett said the city will send a copy of the training session and a copy of Department of Homeland Security’s Hospitality Toolkit for hotel and motel staff that details signs of human trafficking.
“Everybody will be on very clear notice about what their responsibilities are, what their obligations are, how they should contact us or the Sheriff’s Department if they see signs of things that indicate there may be human trafficking, sex trafficking going on in their hotel,” Corbett said.
Corbett added the goal of the proposed ordinance is not to be punitive but to collaborate with hotel and motel owners and operators.
“We were hoping that we would get a little bit more input from the businesspeople out there,” Chairman Jeff Little said.
Michelle Egbert, founder and executive director of AV-East Kern Second Chance, a group that helps former offenders integrate back into society, criticized the proposed ordinance.
“It’s unconstitutional; 14th Amendment, violation of due process as well as freedom of speech,” Egbert said.
Egbert threatened to sue the city if the ordinance is passed.
“I am hoping that you will shelve it so that we can discuss this matter and at least put it in a constitutional measure so that somebody else besides me doesn’t sue you,” Egbert said.
The commission recommended the ordinance for approval by the City Council. The proposed ordinance requires two approvals by the council before it can become law.
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